KARACHI: His associates called him “pheri wala”, or wandering peddler. And indeed he was a trader of sorts who would leave his sleeper cell wearing a black-tinted helmet and roamed the streets on a motorbike to dispense death with an accomplice.
Riding through the streets calmly, he would arrive at the spot where the plan was to be executed. With the target confirmed, he didn’t take long to fire his pistol ensuring that the bullets proved fatal.
“Well done Bobby,” his commander would shout out to him. He would pretend he had done nothing and would only be interested in rolling a cigarette to smoke.
Ishaq, alias Bobby one of the two alleged target killers arrested last week for alleged involvement in over 28 high-profile murders in Karachi was revered as a star assassin in his proscribed sectarian extremist group, Lashkar-e-Jhanghvi (LeJ).
Though he was revered a star assassin in the organisation, people in the network discussed his ‘games’ while young members drew inspiration from him. But his name flashed on TV screens when Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah in a press conference announced that he and his accomplice Asim, alias Capri- the sobriquet to not be confused with an Italian island or a beauty soap- were apprehended by the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) for their alleged involvement in 28 high profile targeted killings.
Some of his last ‘assignments’ included the killing of five people belonging to the Shia community during a majlis in Nazimabad, the killing of four servicemen in attacks near Parking Plaza and Tibet Centre in Saddar, but most importantly the murder of qawwali maestro Amjad Sabri.
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Belonging to a lower-middle class Rajput family, Ishaq had spent his life in a small rented house in the impoverished Orangi Town locality. Someone might point to a native tendency towards violence. However, Ishaq was not a criminal by birth.
He was never a promising student but he completed his matriculation, though he failed in his attempt to learn the Holy Quran by heart which he attributes to the bad behaviour of his seminary teacher towards him. “I was not a good student. That’s why the teacher at the seminary did not like me. He was too strict, would beat me at every single mistake,” he recalls.
Ishaq says it was from his friends in the neighbourhood and the seminary that he had first heard anti-Shia propaganda. “Those friends were a little older than I. I would listen to them and soon started developing interest in the narrative.”
His self-radicalisation had begun and he started attending congregations of sectarian groups like Sipah-e-Sahaba. Under the influence of an older friend Saqib, Ishaq joined the LeJ in 2012. However, he had never been involved in any violent activity until his brother-in-law, Majid, was killed in a police encounter.
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Majid, also a member of the LeJ and married to Ishaq’s sister, was gunned down along with an associate by police in the Airport area in June 2014. It was the turning point in the life of Ishaq, who during the funeral of his brother-in-law got in touch with LeJ’s fugitive deputy chief.
During Majid’s last rites, the cell phone of the deceased was continuously ringing. It was a call from an unknown number. When Ishaq attended the call, the caller assured him that (financial support of) Majid’s family was now their responsibility.
It was Farooq Bhatti, alias Munna – also the deputy of the Afghanistan-based al Qaeda’s South Asia chapter. However, Ishaq found this out during subsequent contacts, which included dispensing of monthly ration from the caller to his sister’s house.
This remote contact, however, soon changed into a spiritual relationship. So when Bhatti asked him to carry on the ‘mission’ of his dead brother-in-law, he was all too willing to do the bidding.
And soon Ishaq acquired the formidable reputation of being an expert hit-man who performed ‘his tasks’ with calm and panache. It was in 2012 that Ishaq formally joined the militant organisation. By the time Ishaq was given the nom de guerre of Bobby, the law enforcers had established that he was one of those attackers who had killed seven policemen guarding a polio team in Orangi Town. Thus began an intense hunt for him.
Amjad Sabri shot dead in Karachi
He, however, remained on the loose, continued with his activities and remained beyond reach until November arrived. An intensified hunt for him commenced in the interim.
According to Counter Terrorism Department official Raja Omar Khattab, Ishaq had been living in a rented flat in Liaquatabad for the past six months. This flat was close to one of his ‘jihadi bhai’s’ places, which he also used as a hideout. In the meanwhile, he had married the daughter of his companion, who arranged the house for him.
During the initial interrogation, Ishaq told how he had killed Sabri on June 22. According to his account, the murder was religiously motivated and due to the Qawwal maestro’s inclination towards Shias during Muharram and on other occasions. Further, he said that though Sabri belonged to a Sunni family, he did and believed in things carried out by the other sect.
“Though Sabri belonged to a Sunni family, he did and believed in things done by Shias,” he said, summing up the ‘reason’ for the high-profile murder.
On the day of the incident, he was waiting at a petrol pump for Asim Capri, who had been tailing Sabri’s car all the way from his house. When Asim reached the fuel station, Ishaq took his place on the motorcycle as they continued their chase.
As they neared Sabri’s car, Ishaq fired three shots from behind. A bullet catcher was attached to his pistol. The chamber got stuck. He got down and pulled out another pistol. More shots were fired from the right side and from the front. Sabri fell on his seat, blood gushing out of his body. The assassin jumped onto the bike again and the rider sped away.
While investigation is still underway, the top tier of the LeJ group he belonged to has already been arrested by the military. The Inter-Services Public Relations director-general in February 2016 had disclosed the arrests of Karachi chief of the organisation, Naeem Bukhari, and the deputy of the Afghanistan-based al Qaeda’s South Asia wing Farooq Bhatti alias Munna, in a press conference at Karachi Corps Headquarter.
Courtesy : Express Tribune